Nobody knows exactly when Brown – who designed 200 landscapes including at Highclere, Chatsworth, Blenheim and Stowe – was born but we do know he was baptised three centuries ago today in Kirkharle, Northumberland.
The anniversary comes as new research reveals that Brown earned the equivalent of £508.7 million in today’s money (£320,000 in the 1700s) from rich clients during his 30 years of entrepreneurial work.
A new display by RHS Lindley Library opens on Monday (5 September) showing Brown’s personal account book to the public for the first time, as part of the Capability Brown Festival, which is running throughout this year.
It not only shows his impressive client list but how he juggled his many large-scale projects, managed his complicated network of sub-contractors and scheduled his extensive travel arrangements.
The book is accompanied by a new research paper by renowned economic historian Professor Sir Roderick Floud being published by the RHS Lindley Library.
Floud examined Brown’s finances, including those held from his years with Drummond’s Bank, held in the archives of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and compared the sums to modern money. He called Brown a "great businessman as well as an excellent ‘improver’, as he called himself."
Between 1755 and 1783 Brown made a turnover, again adjusted to the equivalent in today's money, of £840m and a profit of £139m. He had 125 clients between 1759 and 1783 including the King, six prime ministers, seven dukes, 26 earls, 19 knights, and baronets, two generals and a judge.
The RHS’s head of libraries and exhibitions, Fiona Davison, said the book gave a glimpse of how Brown "was running a business on a truly national scale".
"We can potentially draw exciting comparisons with contemporary business practices too, from his project management to his attitude to risk," she added.
Davison pointed out that the research and the festival was "bringing to light the incredible impact his work had on the economy and society" with an influence not just on re-engineering the countryside to but also on the spending habits of some of the richest people in Britain at the time.
A Capable Businessman runs at the RHS Lindley Library in central London from 5 September to 29 October. The account book has also been digitised and can be viewed at www.rhs.org.uk/libraryonline.
Capability Brown's top three clients
(Equivalent value today)
Hampton Court Palace
Lord Clive of India
The Duke of Marlborough